Restoring the Withered Soul
How do we overcome guilt, anger, doubt, depression and shame?How great is your salvation? Does your salvation infiltrate everyday facets of your life? This book will expose the journey and will examine the pathway to restoration. With an emphasis on practical application, the book will walk you through the “how” of restoring the soul. If you have ever wondered about the abundant life Jesus promised, then this book is for you.
Excerpt from Restoring the Withered Soul by Shane Willard
What is the Promise of Life?
I could hear people screaming. Patients would accost me saying, “Please help”; “Get me out ofhere.” When I walked into the psychiatric ward of the hospital, a shocking feeling came overme. I could literally feel the oppression in the hall. The place felt so sad, depressed, angry,chaotic and hopeless. This experience changed my life because it framed a basic thoughtthrough which people filter God and their life with Him.
A woman who had six children from five different men was heavily addicted to both illegal andprescription drugs and had been through a tough time for years. There was so much pain onher face, and she cried and told me all sorts of violations that had come her way in her life. Shehad chosen to hide behind the feeling that drugs gave her. My heart was moved withcompassion for her because she was understandably crying with some serious emotion. I putmy arm around her and told her that Jesus loves her so much that He was collecting her tears ina bottle. She told me how much she loved Him too, but just could not seem to beat heraddictions. Her next statement was part of the inspiration for this book. She said, “Shane, Iunderstand heaven, hell and forgiveness. I understand someday my life with God will havenothing wrong with it, but I don’t understand salvation for my life today.”
I think her sentiments ring loudly with many of us. The church has unintentionally painted apicture of salvation as something with only eternal significance. We have painted this picturethat screams the message, “Get saved!! One day you will die and it will all get better.” This isevidenced in the songs we sing. Here is an example from one, “It will be worth it all, when wesee Jesus. Life’s trials will seem so small, when we see Christ.” Is there anything untrue aboutthe lyrics to that song? NO. However, it carries an undertone that is so prevalent amongst hristians. We are just trying to suffer for Jesus through our time on earth so that we can getto the promise in heaven.
This sentiment captures the greatness of salvation in eternity. Yes, we will spend eternity withour Creator. Yes, we will enjoy perfect fellowship with Him. Yes, we will rule on a new earthwith the original intent of the Kingdom of God in operation. However, this sentiment missesthe greatness of salvation — here, now, today. There are Christians that I have meteverywhere who are working through the same thought. It sounds something like this, “I am sothankful for the promise of eternal life, but what about the promise of life, today?”
Jesus makes an interesting statement regarding this dichotomy of eternal life versus life todayin John 10:10. He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come thatthey may have life, and have it to the full.” It is almost like there is a collective scream from thefollowers of Christ that says, “What about that? What about the promise of abundant life?Surely God does not define abundant life as simply converting oxygen to carbon dioxide.Surely, there is more to life than what I am experiencing. There has to be!!!”
Taking this tension to the extreme can lead to a dangerous end. We scrutinize our life to thepoint where we become extremely sin-conscious. We tell ourselves that we should beexperiencing abundant life and, if we are not, we must have something in our life that makesGod mad. Remember when the disciples confronted Jesus with this very thing. They cameacross a man who was born blind, and assumed that some sin that manifested in blindness hadinfluenced this man. Jesus said that no sin was responsible for his illness, but that glory shouldcome to God through the illness being healed1. Once we fall into the trap of living sinconsciously, it is a huge slippery slope. The Bible declares that trying to maintain a relationship with God by keeping the law only creates sin-consciousness2. In other words, trying to live the abundant life by getting it all right will only make you aware of where you miss it. We will discuss more of this dynamic later in the book.
This tension between two separate ideas of quality of life is nothing new. For example, theBible says that David was a man after God’s own heart. If anyone should be experiencingabundant life, it should be a person that is ‘after God’s own heart’. At the same time, this man rote something that demonstrates great pain in Psalm 22. He made a dual statement of hisemotional state as well as a prophetic utterance of Messiah’s suffering. He said, “My strengthand my soul are withered up like a dried potsherd3.” How does a man after God’s own heart getto that emotional state? Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in the state thewoman found herself in at the beginning of this chapter? Have you ever said what she foundherself saying?
If so, then you have experienced something that everyone has experienced at some point. Youhave experienced a withered soul. The word David used in Psalm 22 is the Hebrew wordyabesh which means to make dry, to wither, to become withered, to exhibit dryness. It is anunmistakable picture of something dying and would be the opposite of the image of life and lifeabundantly that Jesus is trying to communicate. For example, take a plant or a tree that isexperiencing abundant life. David said it this way in Psalm 1:
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
On one hand, you have a huge tree, full of fruit, green, pliable, with a large root base and aplentiful water supply. On the other hand, you have a withered tree that is like the chaff whichthe wind can drive away4. It is small, sagging, brown, brittle, weak root base, fruitless and has alimited water supply.
David is using this word picture to communicate the dichotomy of how we live. Since we knowthat Jesus came that we could live in an abundant life, why do we feel small, insignificant,depressed, lifeless and isolated? What makes the smallest change break us in half? That is awithered soul. Why are we withering? What is the promise of life he talked about? Where isthe life that is significant, full of life, joyful, connected and so flexible nothing could break it?When do we achieve it? How do we get it?
The good news is that David, who said his soul was withered, wrote an entirely different storyin Psalm 23. He makes a statement that should breathe hope into every person that hears it,“He restores my soul!” The word David used there is shoob. This word has several meanings.One meaning is to return. God is in the business of returning our soul back to Him. He is changing our awareness from self-consciousness to God-consciousness. He is in the process of turning us from self-centered to God-centered.
Secondly, the word can mean to refresh. The heart of God refreshes our soul. God takes a setof thoughts, emotions and decisions that have become lifeless and refreshes it. He breathesnew life into our thoughts. He breathes new life into our emotions. He breathes new life intoour direction. He refreshes us. Sometimes, when we find ourselves in a withered emotionalstate, we need refreshing more than correction.
Years ago, I was going through something that made me feel as if I was dying. I was in my earlytwenties, and circumstances led me to a place where everything important to me at the timedisappeared. Looking back on the situation now, it was really no big deal because it wastemporary, but in the moment it felt like a big deal. When something feels like a big deal, thenit is a big deal to the person who feels it. My soul literally felt like it was withering slowly. Godprovided an unexpected encounter with my mentor over a four-day period of time that totallyrefreshed me. He did not correct me because I already knew where I was wrong. However, hewas used by God to totally refresh me. We met for four hours per night for four straight days. Ileft his hotel room after four days with refreshed thoughts, emotions, visions and beliefs. Outof seven billion people in the world, God decided to show up in a hotel room in NorthCharleston, South Carolina just for me. This is the heart of God to restore the soul.
The third meaning of shoob is to repair. This is the same idea of setting a broken bone. Duringa ‘touch’ football game in eighth grade, I saw someone break his arm badly. He went airborneto catch a pass and got hit on his feet. The hit flipped him head long, and he instinctively puthis arm down to brace the fall. The arm did not make it. We heard it snap. His arm literallyhad a huge bend. After x-rays to confirm the break, the doctor pulled his arm straight to set thebone. The patient screamed in pain, but the doctor had just made it possible for his arm to be estored. Without the pain of setting the bone, the patient’s arm would have been useless forlife.
The picture of setting a broken bone is appropriate for what God is saying in Psalm 23. He issaying that He is willing to see us through a process of pain in order to restore usefulness to oursoul. Either our thoughts and emotions are working to bring us into a greater awareness of Godand what He has for us, or they are working to make us more self-conscious. God’s heart is torepair the places that make us self-conscious by replacing it with awareness of Him. He willrestore our soul.
I invite you over the course of reading this book to journey with me in discovering just how Godtakes a man whose soul is withered to a man that proclaims loudly, “My soul is restored.”What does that process look like? How can I make sure I am in on it? Friend, the heart of ourCreator is for our soul to experience His peace and life.